The long overdue summary of how things went with cycling across the Moroccan desert: it was hot and so, so dry.
It turns out, we were woefully underprepared for this trek. For starters it's amazingly dry there. In Ouarzazate we started in has 18% humidity. Here in Minneapolis, at it lowest, will be 49% - an enormous perceived difference.
As a result, we easily needed three liters of water each per day of riding. That first day, we had just two. I was so dried out at the end of the day that I was wiping salt from my face and drank a liter of water with it barely wetting my tongue. All this after just 39km - our short day.
Needless to say, I was pretty ready to give up that night.
We did spend the night at a pretty nice (though isolated) kasbah in Skoura. Dinner was included, the beds were reasonably comfortable, and the shower was somewhat hot. I slept like a rock and felt very refreshed in the morning. I still felt like we wouldn't make it, but it seemed like we could still give it a go.
Armed with three liters each this time, plus some hydration tablets (granted we used one late the first day, but this time we would use them from the start), we set out for a 50 km -minimum day.
With the better water supply and an early start, as well as more regimented stops for drinking said water and reapplying sunscreen, progress was far easier. The early morning sun was also far less menacing. We had a one large hill but otherwise the terrain we passed was flat and mostly devoid of trees. Patchy desert grasses, grazed upon by the occasionial sheep herd, was all we saw for kilometers.
Still, it wasn't an uneventful day. One of our party had a flat just around noon. We happened to find a
shelter (a taxi shelter, perhaps) to provide a little shade in order to fix it. Our pump line for the
Presta valve leaked like crazy, so we decide to pull of the tire and replace with one of the spares.
Turns out, all the spares were Shrader valve tires - a bit of a mismatch for the rim.
Given that we were out in the middle of the desert, with miles to go, a bit of jury-rigging was in order.
A multi-tool pliers and file made quick work of the rim, and the wheel was converted from Presta to Shrader in no time. Back on the road.
We finished off 50-plus km by early evening. There was little debate about continuing on to the next town (up to 20 km away), so we found a hotel for the night and weighed our options. On the one hand, we could continue on cycling, with our better understanding of conditions. At the pace we were averaging however, we would never make it to our end goal of Merzouga. On the other hand, we could get a grand taxi, throw the bikes on top and cut out 150 km off the cycling and still ride into the final destination like champions.
We took the second option.
The grand taxi was a great idea - we cruised along, watching the scenery turn from scrub-covered to martian-surface desert. It was flat, barren and would have been a long, long ride with little options for shade or water resupply.
Once in Erfoud (the last major city before Merzouga), we unloaded the bikes and prepped to ride the last 50 km. Erfoud was bright and the driest place we had been so far - down to a meager 13% humidity (I wonder if the perception of dryness is logarithmic at this level). It was after noon, as well, so it was going to be hot the whole way. Loaded up again on waters and food for the trip, we set out.
Four windy kilometers out of town, we stopped on a small hill top for an already-necessary water break.
The wind was picking up, blowing sand in our faces. It was proving to be a headwind the whole way. Looking out on the horizon, we could see that we would shortly be riding into a sandstorm. It was starting to look like a recipe for three bleached skeletons sitting by some sand-blasted bicycles.
We turned around, headed back to Erfoud, and hired a 4x4 to take us the rest of the way. Again, it turned out to be a great idea, given that the road turned to rock (not gravel, loose rock). It would have been a miserable, headwind-filled, blowing-sand ride, with no stopping points, no shade, and no water (and no real road markings to boot).
At least we made it to our planned end point: a grand Kasbah on the edge of the Erg Chebbi dunes, including an infinity pool with brilliant views. An excellent spot for recovery and refreshment.